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Sandy Journal

Waterford students adopt Little Cottonwood Canyon as environmental stewards

Sep 21, 2018 01:55PM ● By Jana Klopsch

Waterford students take a break after picking up litter in Little Cottonwood Canyon as part of the Adopt a Highway program. (Christopher Watkins/Waterford School)

By Julie Slama | julie@mycityjournals.com

For two years, Waterford School students have made a commitment to their community and to their environment. 

As part of the Adopt a Highway national campaign, Waterford students will clean up a section of Little Cottonwood Canyon several times through 2020. 

“We have an outdoor program where we are outside, usually in the canyons, three times per week and we have an active community service program, so this commitment fits perfectly,” said Christopher Watkins, outdoor program director and upper school community service director. “But it’s something we can have all the school participate in and already have had several groups interested in helping clean up.” 

The first stint in cleaning the canyon began at the end of the year, coinciding within days of Earth Day in April. Watkins anticipates a second clean-up date this fall.

“We had half our students begin at mile post 4 and work their way uphill, and the other half started at mile post 6 and worked their way down, on both sides of the highway. The students wore orange vests and really got motivated and picked up visible trash, then piled them alongside the road so UDOT (Utah Department of Transportation) could pick them up,” he said. “The kids made a game out of it, seeing who could pick up the most trash.” 

Mostly, the group found plastic drink containers and plastic bags, but they also found some tires and hubcaps, building materials, glass containers, water bottles and even a sculpture of a hedgehog, which the students kept as their inspirational mascot. 

“We went along the gravel and asphalt, even on the hillside where it was safe, picking up materials. We have a connection to this place as we frequent it often, so it makes sense for us to give back. We talk about our natural resources and learn about issues in the canyons — ski resort issues, transportation, graffiti, mountain accord, litter. We use the trails and we mountain climb, so we are grateful for this program and our community to want to participate in it,” Watkins said. 

In the school’s outdoor program, students spend 11 weeks each term learning about the environment, conservancy and issues. They learn how to use outdoor equipment and build their technical skills.

“I’ve had students in the term every year from seventh grade to their senior year and they have an impressive technical skill set by graduation.” he said. Often students tap in to the optional trip each summer, such as fly fishing, climbing glaciers and backpacking in Olympic National Park, or backpacking and taking part in other outdoor adventures in Slovenia or Iceland, he said.

“Little Cottonwood Canyon is right here in our community and it impacts all of us. If we want to go to this beautiful place, we need to do our part to keep conversation [AC1] in the forefront and learn that picking up trash is a simple, easy step we all can do. It’s a very flexible program where we can set dates throughout the year and get our community involved,” Watkins said, adding that while the commitment is to pick up trash three times per year, he can see the school doing more. 

Watkins said the impact is great.

“Sometimes we travel for service, but don’t see what we can do where we are,” he said, adding that he can foresee the school’s community service program taking part in the Adopt a Highway campaign. 

Waterford’s service program is led by a community service council, where students plan and lead several activities. The service projects range from a dinner set aside at the school for refugee families and having clothes and household items available for them, to helping the Christmas Box, Road Home and Odyssey House with gifts for the holidays. This fall, they gave neighbors baskets filled with goodies, Waterford pens and post-its, and in the spring, they plan to hold their annual blood drive for the American Red Cross.

“There’s always more that can be done,” he said. “It’s inspiring to see our students care about our community and now are taking care of the canyon.”